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What Does Six Months of Meta-Data Look Like? 60

SpicyBrownMustard sends in a fascinating data visualization at Zeit Online showing what information about a person's life can be gleaned from cellphone metadata. Quoting: "Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet. By pushing the play button, you will set off on a trip through Malte Spitz's life. The speed controller allows you to adjust how fast you travel, the pause button will let you stop at interesting points. In addition, a calendar at the bottom shows when he was in a particular location and can be used to jump to a specific time period. Each column corresponds to one day."
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What Does Six Months of Meta-Data Look Like?

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  • This is years old (Score:2, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 )

    This was years ago. I think it was even on Slashdot.

  • by lasermike026 ( 528051 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @04:43PM (#44170171)

    The term "metadata" being used by the politicians is off the bullcrap meter.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And i've been in tech for quite a long time. Then I realized it just means "All Data"

    • Do you mean submitter SpicyBrown, German politician Malte Spitz, Director of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, or NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander? Or the general media and NSA apologists?

      Because Spitz never used the term. SpicyBrown is probably misusing the term. Clapper doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. And Alexander is probably spewing bullshit. And I'd give even money that the general media and NSA apologists don't have a clue what metadata entails.

    • Data in this case would be the content of the calls, as in what was said. Metadata is the date, time, location, panel number, frequency, etc.
      • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @05:27PM (#44170507)
        Nope. It's metadata only in very specific reference to phone calls. In every other sense, it's data, pure and simple. It's data in terms of location tracking. If you had tracking information from a GPS, that would be data. If they were tracking you by machine reading license plates, taken from security camera, that would be data. If they followed you around and recorded your location, that would be data. Just because the tracking info comes from a cell provider's records, doesn't make it any less than tracking data.

        When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.
        • When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.

          Well, the politicians are lying, but they've managed a rare case of using a buzzword correctly. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. Metadata refers to side-channel data. For example, a video stream may contain information about when it was recorded, the source, bitrate, etc. This is all metadata in that it isn't data needed for the file (or application) to perform its primary function.

          In the case of "meta data" for cell phones, the source, destination, length of call, encoding medium, etc., is all metadata w

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            I suspect (without seeing the actual data provided), that it includes information associated not only with calls, but SMSs and data usage, perhaps even cell tower registration where there's no user communication. If so, then they're not just collecting "call metadata."
          • by csirac ( 574795 )

            Metadata refers to side-channel data.

            Don't make that assumption. As someone who works on data acquisition/management/processing (not telco) and gets trapped into hours-long discussions on data standards, especially derived data assets where the provenance/curation/modification history (not to mention the inputs, processing parameters, process versions/systems etc.) are just as important as the assets themselves... what is "meta" (or meta-meta, or...) and what isn't - is a huge area of ambiguity. The word "m

        • Nope. It's metadata only in very specific reference to phone calls.

          Which would be the case here, right? Talking about phone calls and all?

          When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.

          So by using the appropriate term for that industry, they're being misleading? Metadata of phone calls has huge privacy implications. I get it. In fact, I work in the intelligence community so I know quite a bit about this. And I don't condone or support warrantless wiretapping, violating 4th amendment rights, etc. But don't get bent out of shape because they're using the appropriate term for that industry.

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            "Which would be the case here, right? Talking about phone calls and all?"

            RTFA. In the case here, the data included information on not only telephone calls, but SMS and data connections.

            linky []
            • Oh boy. Same thing applies to them too. The data in text messages is the content, what was said. The "data" on data connections is what what downloaded and uploaded. Metadata is the date, time, location, etc. In the intel world, we call it internals and externals. Internals is what was said. Externals is everything else.
              • by msauve ( 701917 )
                You're being disingenuous. What might be metadata about an SMS or data connection, isn't "we only collect metadata on your phone calls."

                The tracking data provide by all of this stands alone - just be honest and admit it. The term "metadata" is not being used with the public in its formal sense, but to hide the fact that a vast amount of personal data is being collected with illegitimate warrants.
                • Calling it metadata isn't what's hiding a massive unconstitutional collection of personal information. It's not like the government has been forthcoming on everything except that it used one word you find misleading. It's the appropriate term in this context in this industry. Complaining that you use it slightly differently in your line of work won't change anything.
    • Date/Time of phone calls and SMS is metadata (from that you can establish things like number of calls per day). The contents of the call audio or messages is the data. GPS location is more data than metadata, but the tower you're connected to is again metadata - which appears to be what this uses. Yes, metadata is also data. But how much of it is "metadata" according to the NSA?

    • Can someone give a set definition of each, or is there no "metadata" at all? 'Cause I was under the impression that the bytes transmitting my usage of phone data (my voice when I'm calling, my text when I'm texting, the data for an app I'm downloading) was "data". "Metadata" then, would be which cellphone tower I was receiving the "data" from, the date and time stamp relating to that usage, the GPS location--all things that article was tracking and showing. All things appended to said the data. So, again wh
    • by Rob Riggs ( 6418 )

      Metadata: "the field 'originating_phone_number' contains the caller's number."

      Data: 867-5309

      "Jenny" is data. "Customer name" is metadata."

      Let's get it right, folks. People's lives depend on this.

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      Indeed. I'm surprised that Obama used that term. He should know better.

    • metadata is: this data contains location information.
      data is: he's X years old, just bought some bread and now waits for the bus at location Y

      so you're not completely right, but its still no metadata.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
      True, however trying to correct the terminology at this point will just confuse the issue even more for the vast majority of people. It's better in this case to use their term for it and show how intrusive this "metadata" they are collecting is than trying to argue that their idea of metadata is wrong.
  • This article now ... where was slashdot years ago?

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